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  • Writer's picturePaula Moss

A Wild Week of Shetland Photography

Recently I teamed up with a friend and ran a small wildlife photography tour around Shetland, aiming to showcase the beauty of the island and the wildlife we share with it. Working together with a small group of people allowed for flexibility and a chance to get to know the group.

As the first day was not so pleasant weather-wise, I decided that as there had been a strong westerly wind blowing, Eshaness cliffs would be a good start. There is something really captivating by the huge swells the Atlantic creates in strong windy conditions. The group spent a good hour or two taking landscape pictures and enjoying the birdlife flying by – primarily gannets and fulmars, but also on this particular day, there were hundreds of terns flying just above the surf.

Eshaness Cliffs

A visit to Tangwick to watch Eiders, Ringed Plover and Seals along the beach is always recommended.

Heylor Beach was also a special place to stop as this was where Julie saw a glimpse of her very first Puffin – the group settled down to enjoy some Ringed Plover photography on the lovely red-coloured beach and stones.

Our second day saw us travel to Unst where we walked for 45 minutes or some of us a bit longer, to get to the cliffs. There is a large gannet colony at Hermaness with circa 30 000 pairs of breeding gannets, which has been a spot I have enjoyed for the last few years and of course, was happy to share it with my visitors.

Hermaness Cliffs full of Gannets

The wind was slightly in the wrong direction and the gannets appeared to be very low on the cliffs where I normally photograph, however, on the more northern facing cliffs they were flying a bit higher so had some good chances to take photos. In the area as well were Fulmars, Puffins and the ever-present Great Skuas and Arctic Skuas.

On our way back down to the car park, we were lucky to get some good displaying behaviour from the Great Skuas that have a significant breeding site along the pathway. The group sat down on the path and were treated to a Great Skua taking a wash. We sat for some time with it watching it preening giving good opportunities for photos.

Another significant place of interest on Unst is Keen of Hamar – you would almost think you have just landed on the moon when you arrive here. This site is home to some of the rarest plants in Britain and Unst is the only place in the world where Edomonstons Chickweed grows which is a favourite for most visitors to this unique place.

Keen of Hamar

After spending a day on Unst in fine weather the group headed south again. When we got to the mainland we went to the most northerly award-winning fish and chip eatery Frankie’s, where we had the most incredible time having our meal out in blazing sunshine. Never happened to me before.

Day three started well weather-wise, and with great chatter, we headed out to Mousa for the morning where we had hired The Mousa Boat on a private charter.

We arrived on the island and took a slow walk. It seemed a quiet time for wildlife on the island but we managed time photographing some fulmars, shags, wheatears, wren and a Black Guillemot that stood nicely so Julie could get some photos of his lovely features. We saw seals out on the beach and Red Throated Divers on the loch. We made it back in good time for our boat back to the mainland but not before stopping and having a peep into the Mousa Broch.

A view accross to Noss From Mousa on the East Side

We went back to the mainland for a couple of hours break before we headed out to the Mousa Boat again. This time we had it on a private charter for a trip to the gannet colony on the cliffs of Noss. The tour lasted three hours in total, it took an hour to travel out to the cliffs, and we spent an hour there. The boat took us close to the cliffs to see the gannets and beautiful views of common Guillemots. I have lived in Shetland for twelve years, and this was a first for me. I found it utterly breathtaking. The beauty of those birds is just astounding. Being there, you witness nature’s instinct to survive and provide.

On the Boat to Noss Cliffs

Day four was a calm day and a better day to go to Fetlar to see the Red-Necked Phalarope.

Fetlar is also called the Garden of Shetland and has always been a favourite of mine. When you visit, you notice the fields of wildflowers and green grass. Some of the regular birds you will find in Fetlar are Golden Plover, Ringed Plovers, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Snipe, Redshank, Dunlin and Phalaropes. Small birds are Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.

I have found in the past that Fetlar is a great place to find and photograph Snipe on a post. On our drive, through to Loch of Funzie we had various successful and unsuccessful attempts at photographing Snipe on posts. When we arrived at the loch, we did not have to wait too long before Ian saw a Red-Necked Phalarope come into land. Phalaropes are usually quite easy to approach so with that in mind the group settled in and took a few photos.

Snipe on a post in Fetlar

We headed back to the house for dinner. It was truly a beautiful evening. There was going to be a great sunset so feeling inspired I got the group into the car and headed out to the west side of Shetland to look for a sunset photo opportunity but also just to chill out and just have a look about.

After our late night, we decided to take a slower start on Thursday morning. The weather was not as good, a bit windier and a bit duller, which made it perfect for a day with the puffins. Always a bit anxious taking people to see the puffins as many of times they are not actually there. They did not disappoint this time. When we arrived at Sumburgh the cliffs were just full of them. It was brilliant to see them popping in and out of burrows, showing off to the cameras, flying in with food. A splendid day was had by all. Also present on the cliffs were Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars and Shags.

Puffin sitting on Sumburgh Cliffs

We then went down to Gruteness for a loo break and spent a good amount of time at the Arctic Tern Colony. It was very much enjoyed watching the terns feeding young in between the rocks and flowers. Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers and Common Gulls were also making use of this gorgeous little location.

A lovely dinner was enjoyed at Sumburgh Hotel that evening after taking a leisurely drive around Spiggie Loch and Boddam Voe where we saw the Shelducks.

Friday morning was a new experience for me and the group. We decided to head over to Noss and walk around the Island. I knew it would be good when we got there as I have been told about it by others so many times. You get the ferry from Lerwick to Bressay and at the other side of Bressay, you take a Zodiac to Noss.

Craig took us from the Zodiac to the small croft house and gave us an introduction to the Island. You could walk around the Island or just to The Noop and back. Julie and I decided that we were going to take a slow walk to The Noop and back. The boys went off at a speedy pace never seen until it was time to go home, so I cannot successfully report what they did.

Lookimg down on the Cliffs from Noss

Julie and I spent time watching a couple of seals in the water, wheatears, Skuas, gannets gathering nesting material from a stack alongside the isle, which was quite fascinating. There were a good number of young gannets in the nests. Julie was rewarded with another puffin flying in with eels in its mouth. We sat and enjoyed great view of The Noop where there were thousands of gannets about.

On our return walk we met up with a couple that told us that they had seen an otter in the near bay, so we hurried along and sat and had a drink and had a look. We did not see one but it was not soon after that Julie spotted one, I was just thrilled for her, she managed to get some close enough photos of it as well.

It was then time to jump on the Zodiac and head back – The last supper was held at Frankie’s Fish and Chips again, much to Richards delight.

The last day and we still had not seen any orcas, we had seen otters every day but no luck with Orcas so when we went to Sumburgh Head for the last look via St Ninians Beach

Thanks to Julie and Richard and Ian for enjoying the Island – it was a pleasure to have you.

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